Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Men /Women, Culture, and Group Selection

There's an article in the NYT entitled "Is There Anything Good About Men? And Other Tricky Questions" By John Tierney. It describes a recent speech by Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist. There's a few interesting excerpts from the article in addition to the somewhat obvious differences between men and women. Throughout it, Roy Baumeister invokes an assumption of group selection which I'm ok with to some extent, but which may rub people the wrong way especially with a phrase like "enabled the species to survive"!
“I’m certainly not denying that culture has exploited women,” he said. “But rather than seeing culture as patriarchy, which is to say a conspiracy by men to exploit women, I think it’s more accurate to understand culture (e.g., a country, a religion) as an abstract system that competes against rival systems — and that uses both men and women, often in different ways, to advance its cause.”
and then:
"Culture is not about men against women. By and large, cultural progress emerged from groups of men working with and against other men. While women concentrated on the close relationships that enabled the species to survive, men created the bigger networks of shallow relationships, less necessary for survival but eventually enabling culture to flourish. The gradual creation of wealth, knowledge, and power in the men’s sphere was the source of gender inequality. Men created the big social structures that comprise society, and men still are mainly responsible for this, even though we now see that women can perform perfectly well in these large systems.

What seems to have worked best for cultures is to play off the men against each other, competing for respect and other rewards that end up distributed very unequally. Men have to prove themselves by producing things the society values. They have to prevail over rivals and enemies in cultural competitions, which is probably why they aren’t as lovable as women."

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